Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease
Stress is a normal part of life. Stress can come from physical causes like not getting
enough sleep or having an illness. Another cause for stress can be emotional, like
worrying about not having enough money or the death of a loved one. Stress can also
come from less dramatic causes, like everyday obligations and pressures, that make
you feel that you're not in control.
Your body’s response to stress is supposed to protect you. But, if it's constant,
it can harm you. The hormone cortisol is released in response to stress. Studies suggest
that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol,
triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for
heart disease. This stress can also cause changes that promote the buildup of plaque
deposits in the arteries.
Even minor stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle.
This is a condition in which the heart doesn't get enough blood or oxygen. And, long-term
stress can affect how the blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases
the risk of stroke.
In addition, people who have a lot of stress may smoke or choose other unhealthy ways
to deal with stress.
Common responses to stress include:
Aches and pains
Decreased energy and sleep
Feelings of anxiety, anger, and depression
People respond to stressful situations differently. Some react strongly to a situation.
Others are relaxed and unconcerned. Luckily, you can decrease the effect of stress
on your body. First, identify situations that cause stress. Although difficult, try
to control your mental and physical reactions to these stressful situations. Try the
following to help manage stress and keep your heart healthy.
Get plenty of exercise
Exercise can help counteract the harmful effects of stress. For heart health, aim
for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This can be done
in 30 to 40 minute sessions, 4 to 5 days a week. Exercise can help to improve cardiovascular
health by controlling weight, improving cholesterol , and lowering blood pressure.
Exercise has another benefit that lowers stress. People who exercise have a reduced
physical response to stress. Their blood pressure and heart rates don't go up as high
as people under stress who don't exercise.
Regular exercise can also reduce the risk of depression, another risk factor for heart
Need exercise motivation? Get a pedometer and try to walk 10,000 to 12,000 steps per
day. This may also help you maintain your weight. With a pedometer, you get instant
feedback and credit for all you do, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Build a strong support system
Research suggests that having a strong support network, like being married, having
someone you can talk to and trust, or belonging to organizations or a religion, can
reduce your stress level and your risk of heart disease.
If you already have heart disease, this same network can help reduce your risk for
heart attack. Having at least one person you can rely on takes a heavy burden off
you and provides comfort.
A strong support system helps you take better care of yourself, too. Research shows
that a lack of social support increases the chance of engaging in unhealthy behaviors
like smoking, eating a high-fat diet, and drinking too much alcohol.
Get treatment for constant depression or anxiety
Depression and anxiety can increase your risk of dying from heart disease, if you
already have it.
Research suggests that long-term anxiety or emotional stress can increase the risk
for sudden cardiac death. To reduce your anxiety level, try activities that reduce
stress like yoga, walking meditation, traditional meditation, guided imagery, or other
methods. Look for classes in your area. Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine can increase
feelings of anxiety and increase your stress and blood pressure. Cutting back or quitting
these substances may help decrease your anxiety and stress. Talk with your provider
if you have feelings of depression or anxiety and ask about medicines that can help.
Reduce work stress
Studies show having a demanding job that offers you few opportunities to make decisions
or provides little reward can increase your risk for heart disease. Stress at work
becomes even more of a problem when you don't have a strong support system or you
have long-term anxiety.
If you can't find a different position within your company, do what you can to gain
control over your environment. Try to take some time every day away from work. Do
something that is relaxing and that you enjoy. It may be reading, walking, or deep
breathing. Your employer may offer and employee assistance program (EAP) to help you
manage stress and anxiety. A counselor can help recommend strategies to help you lower
your work-related stress.
If you think you're at an increased risk for heart disease because of stress in your
life, talk with your healthcare provider. They may recommend counseling, classes,
or other programs to help you lower your stress level and your risk for heart disease.